As many as half of adults and children are said to have less-than-optimum levels of vitamin D. People living in northern latitudes are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D because sunlight is the best source of this vitamin. People age 65 and older are at highest risk for a deficiency.
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium and is important in the development and maintenance of strong bone structure and good teeth. It is also important for blood clotting and optimal function of the thyroid gland. Some research suggests that adequate vitamin D may help prevent other chronic health problems.
How can I make sure to get enough vitamin D?
Your body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight’s ultraviolet B rays. A general recommendation is to expose your face, arms, back and legs without sunscreen to 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight two to three times a week. However, weather conditions and less intense UVB rays make it unlikely you’ll get sufficient sunlight during a North Dakota winter. Additionally, when you do expose skin to sunlight, apply sunscreen after 15 minutes because sunlight exposure also increases the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin D is also found in foods, including egg yolks, oily fish such as tuna and salmon, and fortified foods, including milk and breakfast cereals. You can also increase vitamin D by taking a daily supplement. The recommended dosage for adults in good health is 400 IU (international units) daily, but your primary health care provider may recommend a higher dosage.
When should I see my primary health care provider?
It’s always a good idea to talk to a primary health care provider about taking any vitamin supplements. Your primary health care provider can determine if you have sufficient levels of vitamin D and may recommend higher doses for a short time to treat an underlying medical problem. Therapeutic doses should always be taken under the care of a primary health care provider.
(Ayesha Mughal, a board-certified family medicine physician, sees patients at Sanford Seventh & Thayer Clinic. Mughal completed her medical degree at Mayo Hospital in Pakistan and her residency at the University of North Dakota Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck.)